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Indonesia: Archipelago of Fear

Andre Vltchek
Foreword by Noam Chomsky
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Pluto Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Indonesia: Archipelago of Fear is a fascinating and at times unsettling journey into the world's most populous Muslim nation as it struggles to emerge from decades of dictatorship and the plunder of its natural resources. Andre Vltchek brings together more than a decade of investigative journalism in and around Indonesia to chart the recent history of the country, from the revolution which overthrew General Suharto's genocidal dictatorship in 1998 to the present day. He covers the full breadth of the country from Islamic Aceh to mostly Catholic East Timor. Tracing Indonesia's current problems back to Suharto's coup and the genocide of 1965 – and the support given by the West to Suharto – Vltchek provides an intimate and deeply humane insight into the hopes and fears of Indonesia's people.

    eISBN: 978-1-84964-740-3
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-xii)
    Andre Vltchek
  4. FOREWORD (pp. xiii-xx)
    Noam Chomsky

    Andre Vltchek has compiled a stunning record in evoking the reality of the contemporary world, not as perceived through the distorting prisms of power and privilege, but as lived by the myriad victims. He has also not failed to trace the painful – and particularly for the West, shameful – realities to their historical roots. The remarkable scope of his inquiries is illustrated even by the titles of some of his major books:Western Terror: From Potosi to Baghdad, a vast range of topics that he explores with rare insight and understanding; andExile, his interviews with Indonesia’s great novelist Pramoedya, who...

  5. 1 INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-15)

    A grey stream cuts through the fields just outside the city of Bandung. It is polluted with chemicals, its surface covered by plastic bags, bottles and other floating rubbish. Nearby, there is a small cemetery. Kids in rags besiege it – they come here to beg and to extract money from the mourners. When a few small notes are passed to them, the children usually move aside, only to return a few minutes later.

    This toxic stream could be anywhere in Indonesia, and so could the battered surface of the road, the cemetery facing the rice field and the street children...


    Before colonial times, the archipelago now hosting Indonesia never managed to unite. Or, more precisely, it never strived for unity. It consisted of many different cultures and kingdoms that spoke distinct languages and worshipped different gods. The history of this part of the world was always marked by violence, bloodletting and murderous intrigues, although the violence here never came close to the level experienced in Europe. Kingdoms and sultanates were at each other’s throats most of the time. But disputes were settled in a local way, wars fought and peace made, based on traditions and a regional understanding of life....


    In October 2011, a pipeline carrying gold and metal concentrates belonging to PT Freeport Indonesia leaked into the Outomona River in Papua. The news spread like lightning and hundreds, maybe thousands, of desperate people descended on the area. In dirt and mud, they were searching for concentrates like gold, silver and copper – for at least a tiny bit of those materials that made multinational companies rich, their country well-off on paper, but its people desperately poor. They needed these materials to help them to survive. The images carried by several newspapers looked shocking, not unlike those from the Congo/DRC. But...

  8. 4 DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS (pp. 73-109)

    When Pak Musrikan passed away on March 30, 2011 in his house in the city of Bandung, only his youngest daughter was there to close his eyes. But within a few hours, hundreds of relatives – members of his close and extended family – filled the living room, expressing grief and praying for the deceased. Men and women kept arriving for hours, most of them elderly, some crying, others solemnly pointing their eyes towards the grey face of a man who had departed this life at the age of 82 and was old enough to remember Dutch colonialism, the Japanese invasion, British...


    In October 2005, I was sitting in the lobby of the Mulia Hotel in Jakarta with Ryaas Rasyid, former state minister of decentralization. He seemed to have hardly any hope left for his country, claiming that Indonesia was in such a miserable state that it might soon fall apart, splitting into at least nine independent states, while plunging into a brutal civil war. ‘Java is acting like a colonial power’, he explained. ‘If they were allowed to do so, many islands, including Bali, would opt for independence.’ But they have never been allowed to. Any discussion on independence is banned....

  10. 6 CORRUPTION KILLS (pp. 138-151)

    What is corrupt in Indonesia? Many would reverse the question and ask, what is not? Probably almost everybody would agree that personal interests are strangling the country. Logging and mining concessions are being sold under the table to private companies. Justice is for sale and so is the police force, even the army. Corruption-eradication organizations are not trusted. The religious bodies and institutions that are supposed to help the poor are corrupt too. So are public hospitals, schools and NGOs.

    But the Indonesian elites and the government are unwilling to launch a determined assault on corruption. It is easy to...


    In 2006, the United Nations described Indonesia as the most disaster-prone nation in the world, taking away this sad title from Bangladesh and India. The country suffers from tsunamis, earthquakes, landslides and terrible floods. Tens of thousands of lives are often lost in one single year from natural disasters, making life in Indonesia as dangerous as in some countries suffering from wars. The question is, is nature solely to blame for these disasters? The disasters of recent years – the terrible tsunami in Aceh in December 2004, the tsunami that devastated Mentawai Island, the central Java earthquake and the eruption of...

  12. 8 COLLAPSE OF INFRASTRUCTURE (pp. 171-181)

    It is close to midnight and the highway between Merak and Jakarta, which connects the islands of Java and Sumatra, is clogged with trucks. The traffic moves at a mere 3 km per hour. Two lanes out of four are closed for repair, but there is no visible activity at night, just as there were none during the day.

    The trucks are regurgitating poisonous fumes, their monstrous chassis and cabins eaten by rust. The drivers are playing dangerous games, driving extremely close to passenger cars and buses. Time is cheap and so is human life.

    In the middle of the...

  13. 9 ISLAM (pp. 182-201)

    It seems as if some time ago – most likely right after the massacres of 1965, when the religious cadres of Indonesia joined in killing leftists all over the archipelago – the Western political elites as well as its mainstream media and academia decided that Indonesia was a ‘moderate and tolerant state’. Since then, no amount of intolerance, brutality, prejudice, religious discrimination or outright violence in this nation with the world’s largest Muslim population has changed that predominant impression. This position has clear advantages for Western capitalist forces opposed to social justice and progressive change, since the leading religion in Indonesia has...


    Before taking a taxi after the opening night ofTerlena, my documentary film on the 1965 coup in Indonesia at Village East Cinema, New York, publisher Dan Simon¹ commented,’ When Pramoedya Ananta Toer passes away, the last cultural link between Indonesia and the world will be severed.’ He was referring to the greatest writer in Indonesia and arguably in Southeast Asia, the author of theBuru Quartetand the most outspoken critic of Indonesian and Javanese culture. His books were burned and banned, and Pram (his nickname) spent years in prisons and concentration camps during Suharto’s regime.

    Simon was also...


    During the dry season, the Indonesian forests go up in smoke with frightening regularity, the result of uncontrolled land clearing. The situation is particularly severe in Sumatra, where many forests have been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. Enormous clouds of smoke rise above the island, and when the wind blows eastward they cross the Straits of Malacca, covering large parts of the Malaysian Peninsula in sticky and disgusting smog. Kuala Lumpur is affected and so is Singapore. Children have to stay at home – away from school – because the smog is hazardous to their health.

    The Indonesian rich,...

  16. 12 CONCLUSION (pp. 230-234)

    For 15 years, I have attempted to document the epic proportions of the Indonesian disaster. I have travelled by plane, by long-distance Pelni ships, by dingy ferries and tiny private boats; I drove and I took buses, trains and trucks. And I walked whenever I could. Wanting to see it all, I moved from Aceh to Alor, from Papua to the Moluccas and Batam. In 1998 I was at Trisakti University, sleeping under a table with the students trying to push Suharto out of power. I covered massacres, riots and pogroms in Solo, Ambon, the occupied East Timor, Aceh and...

  17. NOTES (pp. 235-246)
  18. INDEX (pp. 247-268)